|No. 24 Nevada plays at Utah State|
The Nevada Wolf Pack seems to have finally gotten the hang of being ranked in the Top 25.
Eric Musselman's Nevada squad had gone 0-for-4 the first three times it had been in the Top 25 this season. But the Wolf Pack finally won while being ranked and the 25-point win over San Diego State gave voters enough reason to keep the Mountain West leaders in the rankings.
The Wolf Pack started the week at No. 24. A road game at Boise State with a chance to send a message to the second-place Broncos would be the true test for Nevada.
The Wolf Pack passed the exam with flying colors in a hostile environment.
Jordan Caroline sealed the win for Nevada (22-5, 11-2 in the Mountain West) with two free throws with 39 seconds left. At the end of the game, Caroline sent a message to the Boise State student section.
"I blew some kisses at them and told them goodbye," Caroline told the Reno Gazette-Journal with a smile. "It was a great feeling. They were talking, so I felt like we had to win. It was a tough game, they're a great team, but it was a fun one."
Musselman had a different kind of message as the win put the Wolf Pack in a solid position to win the Mountain West.
A letdown on the road against Utah State (14-13, 7-7) on Saturday could open the door back up for Boise State. Despite a career-high 33 points from sophomore guard Sam Merrill, the Aggies committed a season-high 23 turnovers and lost to New Mexico on the road.
Merrill brushed aside his accomplishment and looked at the bottom line -- an Aggie loss.
"Too many times we guarded for 25 seconds, and they (Lobos) would get an offensive rebound or we would foul them or they would hit an open 3," he told the Herald (Logan, Utah) Journal. "I thought we had an opportunity to create some separation when they were missing shots, but all those turnovers held us back."
The Aggies will continue to be aggressive, head coach Tim Duryea said. Heading down the homestretch of conference play, Utah State still can earn a first-round bye in the conference tournament.
But the Aggies can keep turning the ball over.
"We got a little lucky; we challenged some shots," Duryea said after the loss to the Lobos. "We came in down two at half, and we are shooting 54 percent and they are shooting 39 percent. Then you look at the turnover column. That kept them in the game. If we don't turn the ball over, we probably have an eight- or 10-point lead."
Musselman has reason to worry the Wolf Pack might not be able to pressure the Aggies as well as New Mexico.
Nevada will be without starting guard Lindsey Drew, who ruptured his right Achilles against Boise State.
"I couldn't even be around him because I was so devastated, because I love him so much," Musselman said. "Things happens in basketball and we have to regroup."
Nevada will miss his 8.1 points, 4.1 rebounds and 4.3 assists per game, but Musselman said "we have five games left in the regular season and we'll have to figure out a way."
Leading scorer Caleb Martin (19.5 points per game) also has been dealing with a sprained foot, but has been able to play through the discomfort.
That leaves the Wolf Pack with only seven scholarship players.
"We're a pretty tough group and we have great belief," Musselman said.
The Wolf Pack defeated the Aggies earlier this season when Kendall Stephens came off the bench and scored 19 points in an 83-57 win at Lawlor Events Center in Reno.
Merrill at 6-foot-5, 210-pounds has the size to give the Wolf Pack fits. But in the first game, the Wolf Pack defense held Merrill to five points.